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River Agency power proceeds bill could be introduced in January

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After three years of negotiation and no action, the St. Lawrence River Valley Redevelopment Agency’s chief is frustrated over a lack of proposed state legislation that would allow the agency to use the proceeds from the sale of 20 megawatts of hydropower to spur economic development.

River Agency Chairman Robert O. McNeil said Tuesday he is feeling pressure to provide some economic relief to St. Lawrence County, which hasn’t recovered since the loss of the General Motors Massena plant five years ago.

“The RVRDA finds itself between a rock and a hard place,” Mr. McNeil said. “We have an agreement with the state, signed by the town, county and a couple of villages, and we want that agreement lived up to, but we haven’t had a lot of luck getting the state to honor that contract.”

In 2010, St. Lawrence River Valley Redevelopment Agency was given $16 million and 20 megawatts of power by the New York Power Authority to be used for economic development. NYPA had agreed to allow the agency to sell on the open market any power not used to help businesses and use the proceeds for its own economic development projects. The sale of 20 megawatts of power would equate to about $3 million a year.

The ability to sell unused power was left out of a deal signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last year granting the 20 megawatts to the agency, and the agency is seeking state legislation to make it happen.

State lawmakers representing the north country said Tuesday they are working on two parts of a bill that will be introduced at the start of the next legislative session in January.

“For a variety issues we didn’t come to an agreement on legislation,” Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, said Tuesday. “But I made a point to go to Albany to restart the discussion with the governor’s representatives early so we cannot find ourselves where we are running out of time this session.”

Mrs. Russell said she discussed who will control the money and the types of projects the money can be used for with the governor’s office last week.

“I want to make sure that the monetized value of power is used to create as much economic development as possible and it’s used for community-based projects,” Mrs. Russell said.

State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, said she is working alongside Energy and Telecommunications Committee Chairman Sen. George D. Maziarz to flesh out the bill’s particulars. “This bill is a priority for me, and it’s important that this monetization turns into the jobs for our community,” Mrs. Ritchie said.

But before the bill can be reintroduced in January, she said, the River Agency will have to decide whether to support a proposal by Gov. Cuomo to establish a separate economic development council, not the River Agency, to allocate the proceeds from the sale of the power.

“We will undoubtedly be discussing that at our next meeting,” Mr. McNeil said. “But I want to hear from the governor’s office on what exactly they are expecting from us — not in generalities but specifically what they would like us to agree to. That is pretty crucial. The fact that I hear that Mrs. Russell is meeting with the governor’s office is very encouraging.”

Mr. McNeil said he would extend an invitation to Mrs. Russell to attend the next board meeting to discuss the governor’s proposals.

The River Agency will meet at 6 p.m. Dec. 10 at the Louisville Municipal Building.

Mr. McNeil said he was confident the governor’s office and River Agency board can successfully negotiate before the state Legislature meets again in January.

“I don’t see any reason why we can’t start pushing this,” he said. “It won’t be finalized until the end of the session. Right now we want to make sure it’s at the forefront. I am encouraged by the work our representatives are doing so far.”

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